The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

When You Are Engulfed in Do-Gooderism

Thanks to being awakened by fire engines in the middle of the night last night, and my subsequent morbid fascination with catastrophe, I ended up being awake at even weirder hours than usual, which means that my sleep schedule has been thrown off yet again. I do not understand why my body insists on doing this. I can sleep like a perfectly normal person, from, say, eleven to seven, for weeks on end, but then if that schedule is interrupted by one late night or perhaps a fire that gets me up mid-sleep, my body rallies with some kind of sadistic glee, thinking "Wahoo! Now we're going to wake up at weird times forever, because that is fun, and then you know what? We're going to be sleepy as hell during the middle part of the day when we're supposed to be all productive. This is so cool." FYI, body: this is not cool. It is irritating as hell. Stop it. Great: my body just flipped off my mind. I've got to get these two to some kind of relationship counselor. Anyhoo, after a few hours' worth of normal sleep, I woke up at 4AM, because evidently my body now believes that this is the fashionable hour to wake up. Unfortunately there is very little to do at 4AM--at least, very little that is legal--so I thought I'd read a little bit, and try going back to sleep. Also unfortunately, I don't really have any new reading material in the house, and I don't normally begin my annual read of Gone With The Wind until July or August. So, I turned to my friend the Intertubes. I figured I'd just Google (TM) something I liked, to see if I could find some excerpts, or something. I went with David Sedaris. I don't happen to have a copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, so I searched for it. Naturally, there are about five hundred opportunities to buy it (I'll get around to that eventually), and a lot of reviews, but not much in the way of excerpts. Which I should probably have expected; obviously, you're supposed to buy these book-type things, not just get free reads online. But, I like reading book reviews anyway, particularly of things that I've read. I read the review from the New York Times, which, as per usual for that self-important litterbox liner, is positive but still condescending. If that damn paper reviewed the Crucifixion itself, they'd be happy about the whole Redemption thing, but tag it with something like "despite the beneficial aspect of salvation, the effect remained a jejune ploy for attention." I moved on from the Times. The next review was clearly an online-only sort of thing; not really an actual review, but a bullet-point list of things aimed at the sort of person who doesn't read book reviews because they don't really read, but probably have heard about various books on the bus, or in the office break room. In fact, it even includes (with bullets) pros and cons of the book. One of the "cons" was that the book is not appropriate for young readers. Since the cover art features a skeleton smoking a cig, I'm not sure who would have decided that it would be appropriate for young readers. While I've never been particularly protective of children, especially when it comes to reading matter, the idea that anyone might consider When You Are Engulfed In Flames as something for their grade-school kids just strikes me as odd. My parents, too, were not especially protective in that regard; they were both military people and I grew up in household where crap, fart, Goddamnit and the occasional shit were par for the verbal course. Nonethless, my childhood reading material stayed pretty firmly in the respectable realm of the Hardy Boys. Much as I enjoy his work now, Sedaris--had he been published at the time--simply wouldn't have made much sense to my ten-year-old self. I was always allowed to pick out my own books at the library; this one probably wouldn't have piqued my interest enough (despite the skeleton) that anyone would have needed to worry about its appropriateness. Mostly, what I find disturbing is that the reviewer felt the need to point out that the book isn't appropriate for young readers. Rather than the occasional vulgarity, I have a nasty feeling that the inappropriateness lies in the references to smoking. The huggybears have taken over our society to such a level that there's a smarmy Mrs. Grundy lurking behind every shelf at the library, stage-whispering "Won't somebody think of the children?" Protecting the children has become a national pastime to the point that it has eclipsed baseball--which, itself, was made safe for children when in the '70s major-league players were browbeaten into chewing gum instead of tobacco, since they were role models. There simply shouldn't be a need for anyone to warn parents that Sedaris isn't appropriate for children, because his writing is very clearly not aimed at children. What's next: warning parents that 120 Days of Sodom isn't appropriate for children? Anyone who can't figure that out should have been sterilized in the first place. Make Way for Ducklings isn't necessarily aimed at adults, but there's no review warning me of that--which is good, because I still think it's a charming book and I still have a copy of it. I wonder when someone will get around to censoring the Bible: after all, it gets pretty raunchy right in the first few pages. Do the math, people: Adam and Eve had two sons, and no daughters are mentioned, so...where did the rest of humanity come from, unless those two sons... I find that frankly more disturbing and not-appropriate-for-young-readers than Sedaris and deSade combined. Oh, the hell with it. I'm going to read The Tower Treasure. I can finish it in an hour, I should be able to fall asleep by then, and no one ever accused Franklin W. Dixon of being inappropriate for anybody.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Let me preface by saying that John O'Hara is one of my favorite authors. It is currently quite fashionable, in literary circles, to deride his work; we of the LitCrit circle apparently prefer stories that make absolutely no sense, a la Faulkner. Keep in mind, if you will, that As I Lay Dying contains a chapter that is comprised of one sentence: "My Mother is a fish." Evidently, in order to be meaningful, one must also be obtuse. Or, we champion the "raw, manly prose" of Hemingway, which is all effectively one simple subject/verb sentence after another--to paraphrase, "I got drunk. Bret got drunk. We drank red wine. The red wine was good." Ah, see, what skill he had! And so, O'Hara is out of fashion. Even in his own day, he wasn't loved by the LitCrits; Hemingway himself--he of those masterful monosyllabic sentences--had little use for his work. As an fan of short stories, I'm particularly fond of O'Hara's. He excelled in characterization; while Hemingway's endless parade of sad drunks were simply fictional sad drunks, O'Hara created sad drunks--and quite a few non-sad, non-drunk characters as well--who remind me of people I know. I believe this makes them what is popularly known as "accessible" characters; to me, they are good characters, because they could very well be real people. I ascribe to the idea that fiction should be believable; in order for me to invest myself in a story, I should be able to immerse myself in it as though it were reality. The reality of the story should become my own reality for the time that I spend reading it. Faulkner's crumbling aristocrats and dirty white trash characters, while based upon the sort of people that I know all too well, have no grounding in reality; they're caricatures. I can't accept them as any form of reality, even for the duration of my reading. It is thus with a heavy heart that I have lately finished one of O'Hara's last novels, Lovey Childs: A Philadelphian's Story. The book simply did not live up to the O'Hara that I have loved for years. Throughout his writing career, O'Hara was known for pulling few punches. He felt free to bring sexual tension into play when few others would, and issues of wealth (or lack of it) and social class are constant themes throughout his work. These come into play in Lovey Childs as well, but perhaps a bit too much so. There is fairly little development of the titular character and nominal protagonist. The reader learns not-very-much about Lovey; for the first half of the novel, her mother is the more developed character. At that, much of the mother's development revolves around her sexuality and a Lesbian affair with one of Lovey's boarding-school classmates. When finally Lovey takes center stage, her own characterization doesn't go much beyond one failed marriage, the murder of an acquaintance, and a one-nighter with a Catholic priest. Even one of O'Hara's familiar themes, that of social class, is toned down to the point of near-irrelevance. Lovey's family is set up as a standard-issue Proper Philadelphia one, but other than providing a point of reference, O'Hara did little with this. In his other work, the milieu of Old Philadelphia stands out and becomes a character in its own right. Here, it's effectively window-dressing; the novel could just as easily have been set in Akron. All in all, Lovey Childs isn't a bad read. Yet, I can't help but wonder if, at the tail end of his life (the novel was published in 1969; O'Hara died in 1970) the author perhaps had resorted to just grinding out another novel simply because that was what he was supposed to do.